On February 27, 2013, the beaten and burned body of Marco McMillian, the first “viable” openly gay candidate for public office in Mississippi, was found near a levee in rural Coahoma County, almost thirty-five years after Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco.
“Breaking Through” (www.breakingthroughmovie.com) documents the brutal struggle of gay, lesbian and transgender American citizens for the acknowledgement of their basic civil rights, more specifically their ongoing efforts to find open representation and responsibilities in the political arena. This film provides the stories of men and women who occupy positions of leadership in public service by having overcome both overt and embedded obstacles. As these people speak, historic newspaper headlines and photographs flash across the screen, emphasizing antagonism and threats yet stopping well short of the ruthless details of murders, beatings and ostracism which could easily have been offered. The camera cuts from left to right in the interviews as these people tell of being open but not publicly open, of living life half-in, half-out, describing the crippling limitations homophobia held for them and still holds for present and future Americans.
These stories provide a record of the challenges inherent in everyone’s desire to be a member of the family of mankind. See this documentary, and as you watch it, bear Marco McMillian in mind. The struggle isn’t over; not by a long shot.
It’s inconceivable now that Mississippi seems on the brink of legalizing unions between members of the same sex that I should find myself alone among gay middle-aged Mississippians caught in a personal maelstrom of celebration and rancor.
On the one hand, these are exciting, invigorating times for gay Mississippians. We seem to be capable of finally attaining those “unalienable” rights which have been denied us on the basis of our very being, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, which are outlined in the first and most fundamental document issued by our government. We may at long last be able to confirm and secure our relationships and our shared responsibilities with a ritual as old as civilization itself. These rights now seem within our reach as well as our grasp.
On the other hand, however immense my gratitude that the zeitgeist has changed to such a degree in my lifetime that these once inconceivable goals are now verging on reality, I harbor a considerable residue of bitterness, not only over the difficulties of the struggle itself, but also over the number of people now gathering loudly under a rainbow banner who within memory were mocking and derisive in their condemnation of gay Americans. While the civil rights bestowed by marriage are undeniable—favorable treatment in tax, inheritance, and insurance status; immigration rights, rights in adoption and custody; decisional and visitation rights in health care and burial; spousal privilege exemption when giving testimony in court and others—I’m left wondering how this begrudging bestowal of these elemental rights in Mississippi will or won’t affect our standing as members of a society that we know and for the most part love, if not “because of its virtues, then despite its faults”.
Perhaps like any member of many groups who have fought for their civil rights and won them I should be content as citizen in a fuller sense, let bygones be bygones and run to embrace this new world with rapture; but I find my feet are leaden, and my steps are slow.